With Rogaine, Viagra, and enough bad news to encourage wistful reminiscences of “the olden’ days,” this should be the best time ever to age gracefully. That President Bush chose so many men from his father’s generation for positions of influence, with generally positive results, sealed the deal.
So what happened in 2002? Walter Mondale emerged from hibernation in Minnesota and was trounced in a five-day Senate race. William Webster had to resign from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. George Mitchell and Henry Kissinger both resigned from the commission to investigate the intelligence community. William Donaldson, watch your back. Eminence gris ain’t what it used to be.
Life, especially in the public’s increasingly jaundiced eye, will consistently throw you a curve ball. In fact, the only thing to expect is the unexpected. That’s why I want to conclude 2002 by issuing some good skeptical predictions for 2003.
1. Eliot Spitzer’s star will eclipse.
For wrapping up the year with a $1.4 billion settlement with the big Wall Street investment banks over the conflicts between equity analysts and equity underwriters, Time called New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer “Crusader of the Year” and said, “To many Americans, Spitzer in 2002 personified integrity and trust.” There is speculation about his bright political future in New York or Washington.
It gets more difficult from here for Spitzer. Not only will people realize that the settlement isn’t that great an achievement, but this analyst business was the low-hanging fruit. Anyone who read a newspaper or watched business news or scanned financial websites knew that the superstar analysts sidelined as business-getters and the promise of good analyst coverage could get a firm a lot of underwriting business. In a bull market, nobody cared. Those e-mails from the analysts about what junk they were promoting suddenly looked a lot worse after the dot.com bubble burst, investors started losing money, and the public started demanding some scalps. These same firms will fight a lot harder and more successfully the next time.
2. Lee Malvo will rat out John Muhammed.
From the little information that leaks out about the sniper case, it looks like there is plenty of physical evidence against Lee Malvo. On the other hand, there seems to be only circumstantial evidence of John Muhammed’s involvement: the closeness of their relationship, the need for an accomplice to commit the murders in this fashion, the sophistication of the scheme. If Muhammed didn’t pull the trigger, it’s harder to get the death penalty. Even worse, the lack of physical evidence throws into doubt their ability to convict him at all.
Prosecutors won’t let that happen, even if they have to trade Malvo’s life for his testimony against Muhammed. As time goes by, how loyal will Malvo remain? Criminal interrogation is a science, and its chief practitioners are brilliant. Imagine months of planting these kinds of messages in his head:
• “Did John really call you ‘snipe’ as a nickname? In front of other people? Gee, it really looks like he was trying to protect you.”
• “We might have never arrested you if we didn’t get that call about the Alabama robbery, where we got your fingerprint on a gun magazine. Whoever made that call, taunting us with that clue, really had it in for you.”
• “The notes and the phone calls, we can’t tie any of that to John Muhammed. Only to you. Unless you snuck out and did all this when Muhammed wasn’t looking, he really set you up to take the fall.”
• “By the way, he had marksman training but there’s no evidence he ever shot anybody. Funny how he trained you to do it for him, huh?”
Malvo’s attorneys may not even be discouraging such thinking. With mounting physical evidence, they would probably consider it a victory to keep their client from being executed.
3. The Republicans’ record on the environment will come back to haunt them.
Every politician is cynical about some things, but I think Al Gore was a True Believer about the environment. He wanted people to make the beauty of nature a high priority, higher sometimes than getting cheaper gasoline or having to pay more for consumer and industrial products. In this age, a politician with that message is preaching to the choir.
With Gore out of the way, the Democrats can make some hay on the environment, and make it an issue that can convert some voters. The Republicans have a pretty poor record on environmental issues, defensible only because most people favored the other things they made a higher priority. Imagine some Democratic leader redefining the debate, explaining how global-warming and ozone-layer issues are endangering future lives. “We could lose more lives in the future from ignoring these issues than we could from ignoring the presence of rogue nations having nuclear weapons.”
I have a number of other ideas for 2003, but, unlike these previous three, I’m not the only person on the planet who believes them. Just the same, I’ll hedge my bets by predicting some safe things:
4. AOL Time Warner will do a bunch of wheeling and dealing.
Scarcely a year goes by when that doesn’t happen.
5. A woman will be invited to join Augusta National.
Martha Burk and her group will succeed because many of Augusta National’s members are leaders of companies that pride themselves on providing equal opportunities for all. It pains me that a private club should have to knuckle under, especially when its members aren’t hurting women and probably would have invited a woman to join in the near future without this. Worst of all, amid the celebration, Martha and her followers will forget that there are many more pressing, but less newsworthy, problems women face. If I was Martha Burk, I’d have passed on getting Augusta National to admit a token woman and put the same pressure on the same people who don’t offer child care to workers, or maternity leave, or equal pay or advancement. If you believe in any of those issues, you have to think they are more important than getting an Augusta National membership for Carly Fiorina or Nancy Lopez.
6 . Nothing good will happen for McDonald’s.
The company is replacing its CEO, Jack Greenberg, who worked at McDonald’s for 21 years, with Jim Cantalupo, who worked at McDonald’s for 28 years. The pace of change at that place can only be described as “glacial.”
7. It will be a mighty long time before Nigeria hosts a beauty pageant again.
Thanks to Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, David Duncan, Phil Mickelson, Michael Eisner, Martha Stewart, Jane Sherburne, Martha Burk, Jane Welch, Harvey Pitt, Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Sam Waksal, George W. Bush, Paul O’Neill, Saddam Hussein, Steve Case, Ted Turner, Eliot Spitzer, Rudy Giuliani, Doug Daft, and others too numerous to mention. I hope you don’t mind if I pick on somebody else next year … in addition to picking on you some more.